Europe’s Stadiums: Another Front of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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People hold a Palestinian flag during the Europa League football match between Hapoel Tel Aviv and Celtic, at Celtic Park, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo: AFP - Derek Blair)

By: Hassan Zeineddine

Published Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Palestinian conflict often erupts onto European football fields and stadiums, as clubs and players have come to represent and support different sides of the conflict.

Seeing the Israeli flag in European football stadiums is undoubtedly upsetting to many aware of the atrocities visited upon the Palestinians by the Zionist state. A picture of a huge banner saying “Welcome Gilad Shalit” next to an Israeli flag raised during a Spanish League match between Barcelona and Sevilla at Camp Nou on October 22 appeared on many sports and social media websites. It was a clear provocation to Arabs and Palestinians, as well as Barcelona footballer Malian Frederic Kanoute. During the last Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, Kanoute took the opportunity after scoring a goal to express support for Gaza on the field.

The banner welcoming Gilad Shalit understandably upset football fans in the Arab world, as evidenced by their comments on the story on social network sites. Real Madrid supporters for their part took the opportunity to heap insults on Barcelona by calling it a Zionist club. The incident turned sports forums into boxing rings as Arab fans of both football clubs exchanged insults.

Some, however, suggested that the incident was blown out of proportion, for it was a small group of Israelis who raised the banner and not the people of Barcelona. After all, when Barcelona played a basketball game with the Israeli Maccabi Haifa team, the Spanish club’s fans waved Palestinian flags and chanted “Palestine, Palestine.” They even managed to hold up the game when they rushed the field carrying Palestinian flags. Not to mention that Arab sports fans commonly wave Palestinian and other Arab flags in Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabeu, and other large European stadiums.

It is important to point out that these cases involve small groups of fans. They neither represent entire sports audiences nor the clubs themselves. Also, these football clubs have an interest in maintaining good relations with all their fans. There are exceptions however, such as the Dutch club, Ajax Amsterdam, and Lazio, in Italy.

It is well known that huge Israeli flags are a constant fixture at Ajax matches. The club’s connection to Israel is due to the fact that its stadium is located in East Amsterdam, home to a relatively large Jewish community. Some of the Jewish residents became ardent fans of the club, which has also had some Jewish players and presidents. According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s website, in the early 1980s, football hooligans’ chants of “Jew, Jew” and the unfurling of Israeli flags reinforced Ajax’s image as a Jewish club. Fans of rival teams responded to this by raising the Palestinian flag, giving the Nazi salute, and chanting “The Jews are going to die” and “Hamas, Hamas,” to provoke Ajax supporters.

In the Italian capital Rome, it is a different story. It is well known that Lazio fans support the Palestinian cause and raise huge Palestinian flags. In addition, they chant slogans against Israel and its attacks on Palestinians.

What about sports stars?

Some football stars publicly express their views on the Middle East conflict as individuals, outside the context of their clubs. The latest such example was Barcelona defender Gerard Pique’s visit to Israel, with his girlfriend Shakira, where they took pictures with Shimon Perez and Israeli security forces in occupied Jerusalem. Pique also visited the wailing wall wearing the Jewish skullcap. Pique’s visit came after his coach Josep Guardiola visited Israel upon invitation from a friend, an Israeli singer, to attend a concert on the anniversary of Israel’s establishment.

On the other hand, Real Madrid defender, the Brazilian Marcelo Vieira angered Israelis when he put on his Facebook page a picture of a masked Palestinian boy throwing a stone and expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Argentine legend Diego Maradona also angered Israelis when he wore a Palestinian kuffiyeh given to him by an Arab fan as he flashed the victory sign and said “Viva Palestina.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


I am hearing such news for the first time. Clubs and players do support and play for charity and other reasons but I have not heard them playing for support to different sides of a conflict. Thanks for sharing the news.

Lazio fans are defiently not Pro-Palestinians, they are Fascist and use to sing racist songs against arabs, muslims, blacks, jews and whoever is not an european white christian. Real pro Palestinian footbal fans in Italy are Livorno fans and other leftwing orientted fans that truely support the Palestinian struggle and not just trying to provoke Jews.

I am grateful for this article. I live in New York where most all pop culture is heavily censored(pro Israeli). Pop culture and the working classes are seemingly synonymous. I am relieved to seee the working classes in Europe have a sense of "the other side". Something we here in the working classes of New York have no clue about.
The educated classes are aware of the larger picture but alas, the lower classes are not.
Thank you for this view point, I am up lifted cuz where I am here, the view is extremely limited.

As the photo shows, the supporters of Scottish club Celtic are huge supporters of the Palestinians and vocal in their opposition against the occupation. Founded by an catholic priest to serve the needs of Irish immigrants into Glasgow ecsaping the famine in Ireland.

The clubs followers are Irish republican in outlook and like the republican mopvement in Ireland wholeheartedly support the Palestinian cause.

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